Reviews of the Week with Ian McEwan, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, and More!


Every weekday, we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, or in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

A Kafkaesque political satire about the Brexit debacle; a tender and inclusive coming-of-age story starring a middle-grade girl navigating new challenges; the lively full-cast narration of three teenage friends growing up in the late ’80s; a well-sourced graphic novel on the argument for open borders; a gripping tech-centered mystery that asks: can someone really disappear in today’s world? Narratives that challenge the status quo are highlighted in this week’s Reviews of the Day, posted between October 7 and October 11, below.

Monday, October 7

The Cockroach, by Ian McEwan

McEwan’s second book of 2019, following Machines Like Me, begins with a reversal of Kafka’s classic opening to The Metamorphosis: Jim Sams wakes up to discover he is no longer a cockroach, but a man, and also the Prime Minister of Great Britain. This twist launches a concise, thinly veiled satire of the Brexit debacle. A public referendum regarding “Reversalism”—an all-encompassing, fringe economic theory whereby the flow of money is reversed—somehow passes, despite all warnings and evidence of its dangers. Those who oppose this obviously self-destructive process are dismissed as “Clockwisers,” mirroring the leave/remain divide of the real world. Former cockroach Sams seamlessly moves through the corridors of power, and, egged-on by similarly devious politicians, he exploits a series of events to blindside parliament, such as a minor fishing accident that he transforms into an international incident involving France. McEwan makes analogies between the present political scene and the 1980s, particularly regarding the exploitation of nationalist fervor for personal political gain.

Tuesday, October 8

Hazel’s Theory of Evolution, by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

Redistricted to a new school for eighth grade, 13-year-old Hazel is counting on Becca, her longtime best friend, to stay connected with her. But after becoming a cheerleader, Becca seems increasingly distant, while Hazel feels abandoned, hurt, and adrift. A science geek and animal-lover, she doesn’t intend to make friends at her new school, but she starts hanging out with Carina, a shy, trans girl, and their classmate Yosh, who’s most noticeable for his neon-green mohawk and his wheelchair. Meanwhile, Hazel has learned that one of her mothers is pregnant again, after two previous miscarriages. Remembering those losses, Hazel finds it hard to react to the news with joy. This vivid first-person narrative revolves around the well-drawn main character as she slowly, reluctantly learns to cope with challenges and to enlarge her circle of friends.

Wednesday, October 9

Like a Love Story, by Abdi Nazemian, and narrated by by Vikas Adam, Lauren Ambrose, and Michael Crouch

It’s 1989 and AIDS is a death warrant, but first love knows no limits. Despite a teeny little blip when Lauren Ambrose mispronounces “Audre Lorde,” the cast of Nazemian’s latest presents in near-perfect pitch. Ambrose is fashion-forward creative genius Judy (named after Garland), glibly sarcastic to hide her self-doubts, earnestly devoted to those she loves most, aching with bewildered longing and impending loss. Michael Crouch is adoring as Judy’s bff-since-always, Bartholomew Emerson Grant VI—better known as Art, and he’s absolutely already a talented photographer—who’s the only openly gay student at their elite NYC high school. He’s practically feral over injustice, but will switch instantly to icy with his disapproving society-scion parents. Judy and Art become an unbalanced trio with the arrival of Reza, who’s “just moved here from Toronto, by way of Tehran.” Versatile Vikas Adam shows his substantial range as closeted, panicked Reza, as well as older AIDS-afflicted activist Stephen—who is Judy’s uncle, Art’s stand-in father, and possibly Reza’s hero.

Thursday, October 10

Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, by Bryan Caplan and illustrated by Zach Weinersmith

Borders, walls, detention camps, caged children . . . the dividing headlines seem never-ending. Regardless of readers’ immigration politics, economics professor Caplan (The Myth of the Rational Voter, 2008) will provoke: “Let’s put this in perspective,” he writes. “The world now produces about $75 trillion a year. Open borders would easily double this.” For eager naysayers, he’s ready with a comeback: “Why do math when you can hastily point fingers at foreigners?” Beyond global prosperity, Caplan debunks protestations that opening borders will increase the financial burden on native populations (more working-age immigrants actually mean higher benefits with lower taxes); threats to safety (lightning is three times more likely to kill than terrorism); threats to culture and language (“cultural greatness” equals the opportunity to choose the best lifestyles, art, food, and more). He’s also got responses to every limiting political -ism, from egalitarism to Kantianism to utilitarianism. That his numbers-don’t-lie arguments are supported by comprehensive research—including 31 pages of source notes!—makes easy dismissal impossible.

Friday, October 11

Ghoster, by Jason Arnopp

Kate Collins is sure she’s been ghosted. She’s supposed to move in with her boyfriend, Scott, but when she arrives, Scott—and all his furniture—are nowhere to be found. Worse, Kate has transferred from her paramedic job in Leeds to Brighton, and she has to be at work first thing in the morning. With nowhere else to go, Kate camps out. When she finds Scott’s phone, she must hack it to find out where he is, while frantically trying to stay employed. There are only two problems: Kate’s on a digital detox after becoming addicted to smartphones, and there may be actual ghosts in the dark, cold, empty apartment.



About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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